More than any single show, the most significant happening in live music in Portland this year was, to my mind, the door to shows being opened a bit further, a bit more often, to people under 21 thanks to long-overdue Oregon Liquor Control Commission Minor Postings rule changes. Set against that triumphant backdrop, here are six of my favorite local shows of 2008.
1. Chromatics at Rotture (3/14/08)
Night Drive, the Chromatics' 2007 album of spacious doom disco, is the fictitious soundtrack to a nonexistent 1980s highway noir film of the same name. The first track is a skit in which singer Ruth Radelet calls her boyfriend after leaving an all-night dance party whose bass still booms, blocks away, in the background. Well, in my mind this was that party, so fully did it inhabit the Chromatics' dance-the-dreary-night-away aesthetic of 107-BPM elegant despair. Surrounded by admirers in a room that beatmaker Johnny Jewel decorated with balloons and blue-and-pink wall tiles, the Chromatics' energetic, four-piece live incarnation let a smile crack the unwaveringly sexy, sulky expression they wear on record, turning a memorable dance party into the best show of the year.
2. Starfucker at the Doug Fir (9/18/08)
Starfucker was the most consistently enjoyable and life-affirming Portland band in concert this year. This show stands out not only for the performance, but also for two circumstantial reasons: First, it was Starfucker's highly anticipated album release show, a milestone by which one could measure and marvel at how far this little indie-pop band had come in just over a year. Second, Starfucker's most devout fans—Portland music lovers under 21—were able to see a local band at the Doug Fir for the first time.
3. Third Angle at Keller Fountain, Pettygrove Park, Lovejoy Fountain, and Source Fountain (9/14/08)
While the logic linking the postmodern dance, landscape architecture, and contemporary classical music featured in Third Angle's itinerant, interdisciplinary contribution to this year's TBA Festival may have been complex, it was anything but contrived. With this outdoor, site-specific, collaborative ode to downtown Portland's archipelago of pioneering public spaces designed by Lawrence Halprin, our city's premier new music chamber ensemble demonstrated the vitality and under-acknowledged accessibility of 1960s Bay Area composers Riley, Subotnick, and Oliveros, and of Third Angle itself.
4. Explode into Colors at Rotture (9/5/08)
Even with major names lending their glow to MusicfestNW this year, the highlight of my festival experience was happening upon this rhythm-driven, all-female, neo-primitivist trio that connects the dots between Confusion Is Sex and Arular. Playing off her bandmates' minimal melodica, vocals, keyboards, percussion, and guitar, Lisa Schonberg struck me as Portland's most inventive drummer.
5. Eskimo and Sons at Hotel deLuxe rooftop (8/7/08)
Opening for an outdoor screening of Flight of the Navigator on a downtown rooftop at dusk, orchestral twee tribe Eskimo and Sons played what everyone singing along knew would be one of their last shows. Eskimo and Sons had a knack for covers, and riveting vocalist Danielle Sullivan never sounded finer than she did this evening on "Let 'Em In" and "Man on the Frontier." It was a fraught but gorgeous thing to watch the sun set on a beloved city and band simultaneously.
6. Bob Jones Ensemble, Grandfather Claws, Portland, Nick Delffs at Witch's Castle in Forest Park (9/7/08)
A late summer field trip to a crumbling stone building in Forest Park, and an instrumental piece for six acoustic guitars and e-bow in the front niche; a noisy tape loop set sourced from Portland street sounds in the little black cavern; a piece of Jodorowsky-worthy musical theater featuring twins, gongs, and toy piano up top; a solo set of roots rock 'n' roll down below. I like to believe that something like this happens every day in Portland and I'm just not aware of it.